'Always on' learning

This is a continuation of my series on mobile learning.

Mobile devices represent a tangible step-change for learning. They facilitate personalised learning while we are on the move, and enable us to access the Web. Just these two factors alone would be enough to tip the balance and convince most people that some kind of revolution is taking place, but mobile learning goes so much further. Consider the idea of being 'always on'. This is often used as a derogatory description of younger users of mobile devices. From a negative perspective the 'always on' generation is seen as shallow, easily distracted and lacking in any critical reasoning abilities. This may be true for some, but it's a big generalisation. In a recent post entitled A Quiet Invasion, I proposed that users of mobile devices are breaking the mould of traditional learning formats, bypassing and short-cutting conventional modes of learning, and maximising the affordances of their personal devices to support their learning, and they are doing so in impressive ways.

In my own professional experience, younger students are generally thoughtful, critically aware and reasoned in their learning. Sure, there can be frivolous use of mobile devices. But consider the benefits too. Students can use their personal technology to interact with, and gain a purchase on content at a much deeper level than we were able to do in the days before we had such tools. What's more, their learning can be built upon at any time, and in any place, because the student takes all their content with them wherever they go. 'Always on' should therefore also be seen as a positive phenomenon, in which learners can access content, interact with their peers and tutors, and create, organise, repurpose and share content at any time.

Look at this quote, which is taken from 12 Principles of Mobile Learning: "Always-on learning is self-actuated, spontaneous, iterative, and recursive. There is a persistent need for information access, cognitive reflection, and interdependent function through mobile devices. It is also embedded in communities capable of intimate and natural interaction with students."

Any organisation that refuses to support this kind of learning is myopic. They also put themselves in danger of being left behind. All the contrived arguments that are thrown against the integration of personal digital devices in the classroom, the school, the workplace or the training room fall by the wayside when we become committed to promoting self actuated learning. It is difficult to argue against the trend of personalised, mobile devices and their positive impact on learning. The 'always on' trend in particular offers huge potential in the workplace and in traditional education spaces. If mobile devices can be freely harnessed, we can expect to see exciting new developments in education and the emergence of new forms of learning.

Photo by Jiten Vaghela

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Always on learning by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Comments

Anonymous said…
You are right - institutions that ban mobile use in classrooms are myopic, and that's being kind. It is hard to know if it stems from fear, fear of not understanding the technology themselves, or fear that something unknown may result, or whether it's a conditioned mistrust of students and their ability and maturity to work independently amongst the temptations of a socially media infused world. Either way, students lose.
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks for your comments Paul. One reason school teachers cite is that there is no 'control' over student owned devices or that they can be disruptive in the classroom. This derives from the belief that teachers should be in control of learning and must manage the process. Perhaps this ethos is now past its sell-by-date?
Nick Emmett said…
There's a steep culture change needed for many organisations to facilitate this, both from the leadership and from at the coal face. Always on learning is always on somewhere its whether or not we choose to access it or whether or not we allow our people to access it. Interesting, thought provoking post, cheers
Steve Wheeler said…
Agreed Nick. We are talking about a radical shift in culture for some organisations, but as in the past with innovation, it is often promulgated from the roots upwards. What we need are individuals who are willing to take the risks and promote new ways of doing things - this could be the L and D department.
Martin King said…
Steve,

You are sounding techno-optimistic.

The philosophy behind your optimism doesn't square with the operation and agendas of education.

Educationalists are struggling with the dichotomy between the utilitarian establishment and economic agendas in education that maintain power through learning dependency on the institution and the liberal thinkers with more social and independency agendas.

Modern technology can swing either way - it can reinforce establishment - institutional agendas or provide platforms for freedom.

I think technology is not the issue - it goes deeper - it goes down to culture - technology expresses deeper cultural factors.

Can technology itself shape culture - we'll have to see but I think this "battle" between freedom and control will play out forever - currently we have the NSA Vs TOR darknet stories.
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks for your comments Martin. Here's my response.

"The philosophy behind your optimism doesn't square with the operation and agendas of education." - Does it have to. I think not. There is an undercurrent of disruption happening all across the education and training sectors, and this works against the dominant culture you refer to. It was always thus. I'm simply pointing it out.

"Educationalists are struggling with the dichotomy between the utilitarian establishment and economic agendas in education that maintain power through learning dependency on the institution and the liberal thinkers with more social and independency agendas." I don't know what your point is here. You will need to dumb this down a little before I can understand what you're driving at. Plain English please.

"Modern technology can swing either way - it can reinforce establishment - institutional agendas or provide platforms for freedom." I agree. I'm writing here about the latter. I can see the green shoots of new freedoms and I therefore have a right to be optimistic.

"I think technology is not the issue - it goes deeper - it goes down to culture - technology expresses deeper cultural factors." Agreed here too, but remember that technology is now inextricably entwined with culture - try to separate them. Bet you can't.

"Can technology itself shape culture - we'll have to see but I think this "battle" between freedom and control will play out forever - currently we have the NSA Vs TOR darknet stories." Technology doesn't necessarily have to shape culture. It just needs to be a part of culture to have a significant effect. As McLuhan said: We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us. Behaviour of the individual is the building block of the behaviour of society, which we call culture.
Martin King said…
Steve

"Educationalists are struggling with the dichotomy between the utilitarian establishment and economic agendas in education that maintain power through learning dependency on the institution and the liberal thinkers

What I meant by this formal education was established for economic reasons - a workforce with enough intelligence to operate in bureaucracies and factories while an (economic) elite could develop elite intellectual abilities. In could be argued that formal education was established to subjugate the masses - teach them their place in society and familiarise them with command and control.

During the late 60s and through the 70s liberal ideas came into education - comprehensive schools, new opportunities to get into Universities and ideas about broader social rather than economic factors - education encompassed being a citizen - education became broader.

More recently I feel education is returning to its roots and becoming more narrow - focusing on teaching skills the economy needs while students are increasingly focused on education as a means to an end - a qualification for a particular job.

I feel this narrowing of formal education is happening at the same time that technology has the potential broaden education and even significantly change it. Also at the same time are those who see what education can become.

I feel that education is going through a very difficult time - there is a force to regress and narrow it at the same time as their is a force to broaden and change it - this is causing tensions - whether these tension will pull education apart or not - who knows.

My view is that education will just carry along as it always has but the really interesting stuff with learning wil happen outside of formal education and that formal education will shrink to become a credentialing shop.
Martin King said…
Steve,

In our conversation n twitter you asked if by "Can" I meant "tin can" - I'm not sure if you interpreted tin can in the way I did but I had just hears a news item about how US politicians had made a temporary agreement to put of a real decision on the US debt ceiling until January or so. The commentator said this was just "kicking the tin can down the road".

I thought this represented how education uses technology - education kicks the "tin can" of technology down the road - significant change is put off and sidelined.

Education assimilates tech for its own (read Shirky principe) ends - notice how MOOCs have forked, been "corrupted" and becoming used as yet another system to manage learning (an MLE) and how MLEs have managerialised and corporatised education.
Steve Wheeler said…
I think if we take your historical perspective Martin, we see a techno-rationalist plan emerging which does indeed root itself in the industrial age mentality you indicate. There is indeed a power structure that dictates (more or less) what students must and must not do. What I'm trying to highlight in the blogpost above is the breaking of this hegemonic structure through the use of personal tools (illicitly) within the institution and outside the boundaries of formal education in non-formal and informal learning.

This will increase, I predict, and will ultimately filter through into formal education as younger teachers take up their posts in schools. It's as inevitable as the adoption of self propelled pencils. Then we will see the demise of the hierarchy and the beginnings of heterarchy. Up the revolution and power to the people.
Martin King said…
Steve - check out Clay Shirky's Keynote ay Code for America.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXQb-yhqktQ&feature=youtu.be

Here he talks about different problem types - technical, managerial and political.

Educational technologists mostly see change in education as a techno determined technical problem amenable to "hard thinking".

This is of course one factor but the reality is that education is embroiled in politics - this is a whole lot more complex and this is where the difficulty lies - as Shirky says

"anything that touches the political part of the process is really hard to change"

PS - the twitter discussion we had shws up another difficulty in treating education as one thing e.g. primary, secondary, FE, HE, Adult to name a few.

The twitter discussion also shows up another difficulty in treating points of view - you cast me in the role as opponent (Goffman styli) and I played my role although I did off-script towards the end.

Anyway - my general point of view is of education as a political institution and the difficulties of change therein,
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks Martin. Yep, the discussion last night on Twitter was fun, and you certainly played your opponent/devil's advocate role very well, teasing out several issues from those who participated.

My problem is that you keep going back to 'education', which in the context of this discussion is synonymous with school/institutional provision. In my recent posts on mobile, I am referring increasingly to the more informal types of learning (a word chosen carefully) that occur usually beyond and without the walls of the traditional classroom/training environment.

As such, (I propose) many of the political and managerial issues disappear, or are at least ameliorated by the personal, mobile devices we are discussing.

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